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Sherri Richards, Published October 26 2010

From victim to victor: Mom turns daughter’s tragedy into life’s work


Beth Holloway searched Aruba crack houses for her daughter. She considered theories that she was hidden on a cruise ship, sold into slavery or dumped at sea. But all along, she had hope, just different phases of hope.

Holloway was the keynote speaker at the 10th Annual Women’s Leadership Luncheon, a program of the United Way of Cass-Clay. About 600 women attended Monday at the Ramada Plaza Suites in Fargo.

Holloway, whose daughter, Natalee, went missing in May 2005, said it is her life’s work to promote personal and travel safety. She’s established a foundation to provide resources to families of missing persons. She also wrote the book “Loving Natalee.”

“What happened to her can happen to anyone in this room at any time, at any age, in any place,” Holloway said.

In an account she doesn’t sugarcoat, Holloway detailed the morning she dropped Natalee off, the phone call four days later telling her Natalee was missing, and her first days searching in Aruba as she hoped to find Natalee alive.

After four days, she watched the hotel security tape and realized the prime suspect, Joran van der Sloot, didn’t return Natalee to the hotel as he claimed.

For the first time, she felt anguish and grief. She said her hope transitioned to finding out what happened to Natalee.

Eventually she got that answer in a confession from Van der Sloot, who said he was with Natalee when she had a seizure and might have died and he got rid of her body. From the first day, Aruba police asked Holloway if her daughter had a history of seizures.

“When she was least able to defend herself, she was taken,” she said. “I believe she was given a date-rape drug, overdosed, and produced those seizures that Joran speaks about.”

Van der Sloot is currently being held in a Peruvian prison for the death of Stephany Flores. Last month, wire fraud charges were brought against him in Alabama. “He claimed he had Natalee’s remains, and he tried to sell them to me,” Holloway said.

Holloway said she makes a conscious decision every day to get up and work through her family’s tragedy, to teach others. She said this is her third phase of hope: to move from victim to victor.

Tonya Stende, chairwoman of the Women’s Leadership Council, said because the council’s focus is on children and the United Way’s Success by Six program, Holloway’s story about her own daughter is powerful.

“You can’t replace that mother’s love,” Stende said.

Holloway also echoed the United Way’s slogan as she talked about the actions people took worldwide to support her family.

“Something magnificent happens when people live united to support others,” she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556